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The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (original 1966; edition 1994)

by Michel Foucault

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2,554122,359 (4.01)10
Member:literaghost
Title:The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
Authors:Michel Foucault
Info:Vintage (1994), Paperback, 416 pages
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The order of things: an archaeology of the human sciences by Michel Foucault (1966)

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
First of all, this book is... opaque. The writing style is very verbose, even flowery in places, full of rhetorical questions and repetition, etc. There may be no accounting for taste, and, true, styles change, but the style of this book leaves a lot to be asked for.

  dcunning11235 | Oct 17, 2016 |
A bear of a read in terms of the historical data Foucault brings into play (my eyes glazed over a fair amount of it). I have to wonder how much more beneficial it was reading this than reading a good secondary account of Foucault's notion of the 'episteme', though then I would never know . . .
We are still trying to figure out our way forward from his conclusion about the elevation of language and the dissolution of 'man' as an object of study. ( )
  DavidCLDriedger | Apr 22, 2015 |
When I tried to write a paper about animal studies and archives, this book was really key.
  LizaHa | Apr 1, 2013 |
I've already said much of what I had to say about The Order of Things n reviews of several articles of Foucault's in which he chews the same fat, so perhaps I'll let myself learn from his example and keep this fairly succinct. This is the book that made F.'s name and inaugurated his "genealogy of knowledge"; the idea is to develop a theory of the changing episteme of the West--what kind of conceptions of knowledge are possible and impossible, and how they mutate, and why, with a particular descriptive focus on the 18th century. Why the 18th century? Because it is when our move from a framework of relations based on similarity--a Great Chain of Being--to a framework based on difference--a taxonomy--is complete. When we are Linnaeans in natural history and Adam Smithians in the study of wealth and budding philologers in language. And each of these fields of study is moving from a static descriptive mode to a dynamic science that concerns itself with origins and change over time. Marx is becoming possible, and Darwin, and the reconstruction of proto-Indo-European.

Not so bad, right? Foucault takes as a kind of epigraph the Chinese Encyclopedia thing from Borges where animals are divisible into "those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies." He starts by treating our own divisions as though they make just as little sense and saying why. This is cricket--good clean intellectual enquiry.

He gets Foucauldian, and even, like meta-Foucauldian, later on, but for once perhaps we'll just let that pass, yes? It's reflected in the rating and I don't have much to say about it except that there are large skippable swaths ("Man and His Doubles") near the end and it's Foucault and if you don't know what you're getting into try The History of Sexuality or Discipline and Punish or something a little more concrete/less rarefied.

So a Great Chain implies quantitative otherness, and a taxonomy implies qualitative Otherness--"heterocliticity"--and the dynamic or progressive approach squares the circle: think of the way labour conceived as a constant gives us a foundation for economics, as distinct from "the study of wealth". Think of the way William Jones's Indo-European hypothesis gives what had once been (and would be again, with the essentialist, nationalist 19th century) radically separate languages a place to meet: philology becoming linguistics. Fine, fine.

That's as far as you can really go with that intriguing argument, of course, unless you're prepared to engage with the structuralist aridity of most of the second half of the book. I would have preferred a much closer attention to sources, examples, and the 18th-century lifeworld as actually expressed in the 18th century--Foucault may have seen himself as an anti-humanist, but only a really old-timey conception of humanism can't take into account a historian that tries to see history from the outside.

So yeah, I guess I recommend reading carefully for a while, mulling the argument and deciding how you feel about it, and then skimming and extracting the gems: Don Quixote as the "hero of absolute signification" the character for whom there is no difference between words and reality; Descartes as introducing a naturalism that is not mimesis, a correspondence between language and the world rooted in the brain and not God--for me this was the basis for much closer engagement with the part of this that's about language, with reference to theorists like Condillac and mystics like Rousseau and Herder and Coleridge, but when I go over those notes now they seem unfruitful. Plenty to like here, and it was of course an important chapter in the history of the intellectual world the humanities now exist in (I fret so about the mode of expression and the sincerity of the ideas in this kind of book partially because I feel implicated, of course). But you wish someone had told him "Just the facts, man." ( )
10 vote MeditationesMartini | Apr 1, 2011 |
Difficult unraveling of changing epistemes from 16th century to present - the ways in which order (how we in the West make order, recognize order, and express order in terms of meaning and knowledge) changes and with it the meanings we ascribe to experience. ( )
  malithgow | Nov 26, 2009 |
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This book, by the author of Madness and Civilization, has been hailed as the most important French contribution to philosophy since Sartre. Its thesis is that "man" has only quite recently emerged as an object of our knowledge: our present concept of man is the result of a mutation within our culture. Michael Foucault studies this mutation, from the seventeenth century onward, cutting across numerous disciplines, first with a study of the classical "human sciences," and then with an analysis of their nineteenth-century successors - philology, biology, and political economy.
The result is, indeed, an archaeology of the human sciences, an analysis of their foundations, their substrata, a reflection on what makes them possible now: an archaeology of contemporary modes of thought. It is also a critical reflection, for the day may not be far off when conditions will change once again, "man" will disappear, and a new mode of thought will come into being.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679753354, Paperback)

When one defines "order" as a sorting of priorities, it becomes beautifully clear as to what Foucault is doing here. With virtuoso showmanship, he weaves an intensely complex history of thought. He dips into literature, art, economics and even biology in The Order of Things, possibly one of the most significant, yet most overlooked, works of the twentieth century. Eclipsed by his later work on power and discourse, nonetheless it was The Order of Things that established Foucault's reputation as an intellectual giant. Pirouetting around the outer edge of language, Foucault unsettles the surface of literary writing. In describing the limitations of our usual taxonomies, he opens the door onto a whole new system of thought, one ripe with what he calls "exotic charm". Intellectual pyrotechnics from the master of critical thinking, this book is crucial reading for those who wish to gain insight into that odd beast called Postmodernism, and a must for any fan of Foucault.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:04 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Traces the evolution of man's study of himself from seventeenth-century human sciences

(summary from another edition)

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